by Meg Dowell
Too many times, I have found myself trapped in book discussions with people who do not seem to grasp the concept of writing to the emotions.
Maybe at some point in my five years of studying English at the undergraduate level I missed something about the purpose behind writing books. Writing can inform and it can entertain. Regardless of the tone or style, at least from what I understand, every story has a message. A point. And writers, the majority of the time, use pathos, emotional appeal, to get their points across.
Yet in these discussions, I often find myself sitting quietly listening to readers complain about how dissatisfied they were with a book’s ending. How the story “shouldn’t have ended that way.” I stay quiet, usually, because I don’t really always know how to respond to that. Did I miss something … or did they?
What I suppose many don’t seem to understand about storytelling is that it is not a writer’s goal, nor is it in their job description, to please their audiences. Granted, if you write a “bad” book, you aren’t going to be very successful. But there’s a big difference between writing a not-so-great book that can’t hold anyone’s interest and writing an amazing book that some people wish would have been written differently.
A few stories specifically come to mind here, but in general, when someone doesn’t like how a book ends, they feel the need to rant about how terrible the entire book or book series was. They (in extreme cases) sometimes even start calling out the author and criticizing her choices, which no one should ever really do when we’re talking about something as simple as the ending of a fictional story.
Okay. We get it. You hated the way Allegiant and Mockingjay ended (just examples). You were supposed to. These stories weren’t supposed to have happy fairytale endings. They were supposed to make you feel things. They were supposed to wreck you emotionally. That doesn’t mean the series as a whole were awful. It doesn’t mean the authors “gave up.” In fact, just the opposite. It’s brave not to take the easy way out and give your readers the ending they want. It’s risky. It’s refreshing.
You hated the ending because it made you feel something. You’re probably not angry at the book or the author. You’re upset by the events in the story, which is exactly how the author wanted you to feel.
Some books play on your emotions on purpose. Maybe you don’t like that, and that’s fine, but I’m really interested in knowing why. Why is it so hard for some people to appreciate a book for its positive qualities even if the ending did not meet their expectations? As a writer, having written stories with endings even you don’t always love, is it any easier for you?
These are the things that keep me awake at night. For some reason.
Meg Dowell is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.